Until Trent Reznor makes a country album, this may be the toughest review I’ll ever write on a personal level.
Don’t say I should have known what I was getting into. I tried to talk myself out of it. But anytime Chris Cornell enters my city, I am compelled to see him. He was one of my first rock crushes, and Superunknown
was one of the first CDs I ever completely wore out.
It’s been a strange path for Cornell, but this Timbaland collaboration is the most headscratching-worthy of them all. Soundgarden is the benchmark, the solo albums were too mellow but gave us a few amazing singles, and replacing Zach de la Rocha in RATM to make Audioslave was mostly awesome. But this one reeks of mid life crises, feigned innovation, and all out recklessness. To quote ‘Fresh Tendrils’, “throw yourself away”.
I walk in to The Fillmore, dressed as a cowgirl vampire, with an open mind. Timbaland is onstage, and he’s working it to a little JT It’s a bit odd to watch him onstage ‘performing’ songs that are sung by other famous people. I understand that he manufactured the beats, but it was just weird. Have Cornell come out and sing them…something. And the guy is totally tooting his own horn. Yeah, he’s a ‘hit-maker’ or whatever, and I’ve been known to shake my booty to a few of his beats, but it was a little gross. Especially when he selected some ladies from the crowd, told him he had a thousand bucks in his pocket for each of them, and then basically told them “psych!”. Then, he did a ‘cover’ of ‘Smells Like Teen Spirit’. It was incredibly ironic for the evening. To cover the grunge anthem this way before one of the grunge kings hits the stage with his ‘new image’ reinforced that this was all wrong. If Kurt were still alive, he would really have offed himself with a shotgun over that one.
They told us it would be 5 minutes until Cornell hit the stage. Then another 5, and another 5. Seriously, just be honest.
When they hit the stage, I tried to get swept up in it all. I had worked my way up to the front row, off to the side, and immediately Cornell comes to my side and the I melted a little. His voice is still amazing, and this album enforces his vocal range. He still looks amazing. He didn’t come out wearing baggy pants and a bandana or anything- he pretty much still looks like a rocker. But…
I couldn’t shake the feeling that I was watching one of those kung fu movies. You know, where the actors look kung fu, and act kung fu, but they talk like Joey down the street. The words, the beats… just never connected with me; I ended up separating Cornell’s voice from the words and tried to live off of that. I tried to groove, I really did, but I kept stiffening up, mouth agape (ok, partially from the fangs I was wearing), ears perked for some kind of revelation. It never came.
While the band was better than when I saw Cornell’s solo set last year, they mostly perpetuated the root cause of my dissatisfaction- overproduction. Guitar lift here, run right there, throw pick here, walk to side steps there. Cornell’s voice is supposed to be the beacon of light in a messy pit of rock sound. Now his voice is shadowboxing beats that lack hooks, guitars licks that lack distinction. His Arsenio Hall-like arm swirl he used to use to signal the mosh pit now signals to bounce to the beats. Fuckin’ weird.
He ran through his new album from start to finish. At one point, he points to his wife and daughter in the prime balcony seat, saying he “wrote this song for his beautiful wife who is hiding in the back”. Immediately, the girls in front of me turn around, take a gander, and go into denial. “She’s not even really up there”. Ah, Cornell ruined the rock ‘n roll fantasy. Last time I saw him he was singing to bare boobs and taking meet-me-later notes from blonde stripper types. Ah, the good ol’ days.
I stayed it out. I wanted a stellar encore. Rusty Cage? Jesus Christ Pose? For sure his Billie Jean cover, right? 2 little songs. 2 LITTLE SONGS! I was really disappointed. Looking at other setlists, we got the shaft. And it was Halloween, you’d think we’d deserve a little something special.
In another interesting coincidence, Tom Morello will take the same stage tonight as his alter ego, The Nightwatchman. His solo work sounds wildly different than RATM or Audioslave, but it shares the same political thread and feels really authentic. Cornell could learn a thing or five from Morello.
youtubes from SFBlueCA
Burden in My Hand
“Stankiest Fillmore” quote
Chris Cornell performance: 6/10
Timbaland performance: 5/10
venue (The Fillmore): 9/10
value ($35/ticket): 6/10